Crockpots cook while you're away

October 05, 1994|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,Orange County Register

Crockpots are a blessing to busy cooks. They let you have the opportunity to come home to a hot, home-cooked meal -- even after a long day. Crockpots, also known as slow cookers, heat so gently that many recipes can cook on the low setting for 10 or more hours.

In most crockpot recipes, all ingredients can be placed in the pot at one time and left to cook all day. Exceptions fall into four basic ingredient groups:

* Dairy products such as milk, cream and sour cream can curdle and separate cooked long periods.

* Noodles and spaghetti generally will not withstand long periods of cooking; the strands will clump together in a sticky mass.

* Frozen peas and corn are not recommended for long periods of cooking, because they will darken and quickly become overcooked.

* Soft-flesh fish and cooked shrimp may disintegrate, darken or, with shrimp, become veru tough.

Slow cookers are not just for stews, soups and casseroles. They are great for preparing hot breakfast foods. Breakfast can be fully prepared the night before. Oatmeal, cracked wheat, grits and cornmeal mush can be cooked on the low setting for 8 to 9 hours. Baked apples, flavored with raisins and cinnamon, make a wonderful breakfast treat; they bake for 6 to 8 hours on low.

Crockpots turned to a low setting keep fondues warm without scorching. On a buffet table, they are great for hot drinks, dips, casseroles and soups. Rolls can be warmed without drying out.

Probably the most common mistake made in slow cooking is adding too much liquid. Excess liquid makes slow-cooked dishes taste bland.

Liquids don't boil away as in conventional cooking. Usually you have more liquid at the end of cooking than at the beginning. If you are adapting a conventionally cooked recipe, use about half the recommended liquid. One cup of liquid is usually enough for any recipe unless it contains rice or pasta.

The following roast chicken recipe is a no-fail technique for producing a moist bird with little effort. I use it frequently when I need cooked chicken for salads and casseroles. Notice no liquid is added to the pot.

Crockpot Roast Chicken

Serves 4 to 6

1 whole chicken, 2 1/2 to 4 pounds

salt and pepper

Remove giblets and thoroughly wash chicken. Pat dry with paper towel to assure good browning. Sprinkle cavity with salt, pepper and fresh parsley. Place in crockpot, cover and cook 7 to 9 hours on low.

To add more flavor, before cooking you can place a tablespoon of butter or margarine on top of bird along with 1 tablespoon of minced fresh basil, parsley or tarragon. Reserve the juices that -- accumulate around the chicken; for delicious, fat-free stock, refrigerate and remove congealed fat at the top.

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A crockpot can make cooking easy on any trip where you have kitchen facilities. Come back to your rooms after a day of sight-seeing to a piping hot casserole brimming with chicken and beans. Heat some tortillas and dig in.

Compadre Casserole

Serves 8 to 10

nonstick spray, such as Pam

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 (2 to 3 pounds) chicken, cooked, skinned, boned and shredded

salt and pepper to taste

8 corn tortillas

1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce

3/4 pound Cheddar cheese, shredded

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

2 (16-ounce) cans ranch-style beans

1 (16-ounce) can corn, drained

1 (6-ounce) can pitted olives, drained

8 warm corn or flour tortillas, for serving

guacamole, optional garnish

Spray crockpot with nonstick spray. In a large skillet, saute onion and garlic in the oil until softened and transparent, for about 3 minutes. Add chicken, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place two tortillas in bottom of prepared crockpot. Layer in 1/3 of chicken mixture; top with 1/3 of enchilada sauce, 1/4 of cheese, 1/3 of tomato sauce, 1/3 of beans and 1/3 of corn. Continue layering in the same manner two more times. Top with 2 tortillas, a final layer of cheese and the olives.

Cover and cook on low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

Serve with warm corn or flour tortillas. Garnish with guacamole if desired.

Ranch-style beans are available with and without jalapeno chilies. This casserole is delicious using the beans with chilies. However, children probably will prefer it without.

*

Crockpot Carnitas

Serves 6

3 to 4 pounds pork roast, blade or shoulder

1 cup green chili salsa

1 teaspoon garlic powder

warm corn or flour tortillas

optional garnishes: shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sliced green onions, shredded cheeses, chopped red onions, chopped avocado, sliced black olives, sour cream and cooked black beans

Trim roast of excess fat. Place in crockpot; pour salsa over top and sprinkle on garlic powder. Cook 8 to 10 hours on low setting.

Drain off fat, remove bones and tear meat into shreds. Place on warm platter or back into the warm crockpot.

Serve with warm tortillas and your choice of garnishes.

*

4 Baked apples are great for breakfast or dessert.

Crockpot Baked Apples

6 tart green apples

2 tablespoons raisins

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/2 cup water

Wash and core apples. In a small bowl, combine raisins and sugar and fill center of apples. Place apples in crockpot and sprinkle with cinnamon. Cut butter or margarine into 6 pieces; place a piece on top of each apple.

Cover and cook on low setting for 7 to 9 hours.

Serve plain or with milk or whipped cream (for dessert).

If you want to eliminate sugar, sprinkle artificial sweetener onto cooked apples to taste.

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